Saturday, 15 November 2014

Postdoc interview

A bit of background to the interview. I was still a few months from finishing my PhD when the first postdoctorate adverts starting appearing in August/September for the coming academic year. As I had only one published paper, and was struggling with another paper to get it published, I felt there was little change of getting any postdoc. However I took it as a change to polish my CV, and get some practice at writing cover letters, and if lucky have some interview training. With my expectation that I'd fail miserably at getting anywhere with the couple of applications, I'd even lined up a project for the remainder of the year.

So I applied for two postdocs, one at the Royal Tyrell Museum in Canada with a project of my own design and the other at UCL and RVC with Anjali Goswami and John Hutchinson respectively and Stephanie Pierce (RVC, now Harvard). With unsuccessful applicants to the Tyrell (thought now would be a good time to tell people its pronounce like squirrel) being warned they wouldn't hear anything leaving me uncertain what the result was, I was delighted to hear back that I would be having an interview with the various members of the team at UCL/RVC.

If you haven't read the other post detailing the project, the project is a Leverhulme funded grant to study the evolution of the postcrania in felids. It breaks down into a PhD bit (being carried out by Marcela Randau at UCL) looking at the morphometrics of the skeleton, and the postdoc looking at the functional mechanics of the vertebrae and limbs. Even with all of the knowledge of the project, and having matched my CV and cover letter as closely as possible, it became vital to make sure I knew as much as I could for the interview. Having never specialised in felids before there was lots of reading and drawing phylogenies to get everything to stick. The postdoc posting wasn't as specific as the PhD advert, so I even read that to figure out more background reading. I did a major refresh on my PhD work, particularly the chapter relating to FE analysis and validation work.

So the 7th October 2013 rolled around for the interview and I felt as ready as I could do on the information side of things. Emily Rayfield (my boss at Bristol) had very kindly offered my the use of her office for the interview (it was a Skype interview) as it was a quiet and private location. I'd brought in my laptop for it, and just before the 1pm interview rolled around I made sure I was changed into a shirt and jacket. I sat at the laptop, connected everything up, and then panicked that I hadn't checked that the microphone was working. The skype call was made, and I stuck my video setting on to prove I was there (and all dressed for the occasion, even if I was wearing jeans that weren't visible). Typically, and if you hadn't guessed, my microphone refused to work. No matter what I did. So I ended up typing my apologies and apologising for my turning red with embarrassment. I turned of the camera function, and then was thankful that Anjali had some credit on her skype account so suggested using the phone line in the office. After a quick google search for the phone number of the office, the phone rang and the interview proper started.

It started with me giving a run down of my research during my PhD, from the validation of a bird skull using finite element modelling to cranial reconstruction of ornithomimosaur skulls and testing them under loads to compare how the skulls may have performed during feeding, and how these herbivorous theropods fed compared to carnivorous taxa. From there the interview drifted into specifics of the project and how my experience fit into the framework of the project. To be honest, most of the interview passed in a bit of a blur, but I do remember being asked how I'd set up a validation of a leg bone and explaining how I would have done it. Looking back I'm sure I'd answer it differently now, but I take that as a sign of a combination of nerves and some extra experience. After all of the discussion on how I would do things, I was asked a bit about if I reckoned I could learn all the new programs etc. Finally they asked about moving to London and if that would have been a problem. Thankfully for me, despite not having thought about it before (shows how little I'd actually thought about getting the job), I do have a lot of friends in London who I knew would help ease the move if it was to happen. With various thank yous for the time, the interview ended with them saying they'd let me know after all the other interviews.

So that was the interview, but not the whole story. Due to my nerves, my shirt was drenched so I was quickly trying to cool myself down as Emily walked back. Anyone who has met me knows I don't really do major stressing or freaking out (one exception may be large conference talks where I do still get nerves). It caused her and her visitor much amusement to see me post interview looking like I'd just come out of the shower. I could not have been happier that it was a skype interview with no webcam at that point. I thought the whole interview had gone as well as I could have hoped. I was thankful for my preparation work, and for taking a piece of paper and pen to it with my to make notes of questions being asked to refer back to later. Having had mixed success at interviews before (rejections from Cambridge at undergrad and a student advisor job, before a successful one for another student advisor post) I was unsure of my success. Anyway I left work to go get a shower and drink to calm down before getting back to work.

Suffice it to say, I was offered the job the next day. Reading that email was incredible. I was shaking with excitement and called my parents to let them know. They quickly levelled my head and reminded me of various things I needed to check before I said yes. However, within 3 days all my questions were answered, and any fears allayed, and I was to be employed at on the project on the 1st February.

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